Australian sailor honored 77 years after he died saving crew

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An Australian war hero will be awarded the nation’s top military honor more than 77 years after he was killed while saving some of his shipmates.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has approved awarding the Victoria Cross to sailor Edward “Teddy” Sheean, Australia’s Governor-General David Hurley announced Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sheean, who was just 18 when he died, sacrificed his life for his shipmates during World War II.

“After the order was given for the crew of the HMAS Armidale to abandon ship, Japanese aircraft strafed the Australian sailors who were overboard,” Morrison said in a statement. “Sheean then turned back, made for the gun, strapped himself in, and returned fire to the Japanese. He fought to the very end.”

A week after the ship was sunk near East Timor in December 1942, 49 crew members were rescued, Morrison said. Many of them owed their lives to the actions of Sheean.

Sheean’s family have spent decades trying to get him the recognition they believe he deserves. He was given a lower award after his death, but two inquiries in recent years were divided on whether he should be awarded the Victoria Cross.

An expert panel convened to settle the case found compelling new evidence in favor of giving Sheean the top honor and that he had been the victim of substantial injustice due to government missteps and rigid policies in the previous handling of the case.

On the basis of that report, Morrison earlier this week recommended to Queen Elizabeth II that the sailor be given the award.

“This is a momentous day for the Sheean family,” Hurley told reporters in Canberra. “In my conversations with them, their pride and emotion was very evident.”

Morrison said all Australians could share in the joy of the award as the nation celebrates the 75th anniversary of victory in the Pacific.

“Teddy Sheean never saw war’s end, never saw the peace he helped secure, and did not enjoy the long life that many of his crew mates did,” Morrison said. “That was the price he paid for his valor.”

Hurley said a ceremony would be held within the next few months.

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